Sudden Sensorineural Hearing loss is a type of hearing loss that happens very quickly. SSHL happens almost instantly but it can also progress within a period of up to three days and in most cases, it only affects one ear.
People who experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss may notice a popping sensation before their hearing disappears but others have also reported experiencing tinnitus (ringing in the ears) before they lose their hearing.
Is it Permanent?
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is usually not a permanent condition, as there is a good chance of recovery for most people who experience it. Some people who experience SSHL recover within a period of three days without medical help but others may require up to two weeks for recovery. Unfortunately, there are some people who never recover from SSHL. Recovery and treatment will depend on the diagnosis of your physician or audiologist.
How is SSHL diagnosed?
When checking for SSHL, doctors will examine your medical history and hearing history first. This is important so that any underlying causes can be ruled out. You will then be asked to take a hearing evaluation or a pure-tone hearing test to determine if there is a hearing loss. SSHL is diagnosed when there is a hearing loss of at least 30 decibels in three frequencies.
Causes of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss
There are many factors that can cause sudden sensorineural hearing loss but in most cases, the exact cause is not identified. As such, SSHL is classified as an idiopathic condition (a condition with an unknown cause). Viral infections are presumed to be the cause of most SSHL cases, although doctors usually base their diagnosis on a patient’s medical history. Some of the most common causes of SSHL include:
- Viral Infections
- Illness or disease
Diseases that can cause SSHL include autoimmune disease, otosclerosis (abnormal bone growth that affects the middle ear), and HIV/AIDS, among others.
- Head Trauma or Physical Injury
A person who experiences serious head trauma is susceptible to tinnitus and hearing loss. Head injury can damage either the ear directly or some parts of brain that process auditory information.
- Ototoxic Medication and Chemicals
Some medications are ototoxic (toxic to the ear). There are over 200 types of medicines that are known to cause damage to the ear, including some over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs. While some hearing problems caused by ototoxicity usually go away when the medication is discontinued, there are some that may cause irreversible damage. Some of the most commonly used medications that are known to cause hearing loss include aspirin (in large doses), medication for heart disease like loop diuretics, some antibiotics, NSAIDs including ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as medicines used to treat serious infections and cancer.
- Circulatory problems
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Meniere’s Disease
- One-time exposure to a very loud noise (e.g. gun shots, explosion)
- Psychological factors (e.g. stress)
Treatments for Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Before a treatment plan can be prescribed, doctors will try to look at the underlying causes first. If a specific cause is identified, SSHL is addressed by treating the underlying cause (usually with antibiotics).
In cases where the hearing loss is caused by medication, doctors may simply advise the patient to discontinue its use.
In cases where no specific cause is found, the patient may be treated with steroids, particularly corticosteroids like cortisone, a hormone naturally released by the adrenaline gland as a response to stress. Cortisone is usually administered to treat inflammation and pain. It also helps patients with immune system problems.
Oxygen infusion or Carbogen (mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide) inhalation is also a common treatment, as it is also believed that SSHL can happen when the inner ear does not receive enough oxygen. Carbogen inhalation can help improve airflow and blood flow in the inner ear.
It is worth noting that not all patients respond to these treatments. Treatment becomes especially challenging when the exact cause is not known and in about 15% of cases, sudden sensorineural hearing loss leads to permanent and progressive loss of hearing.
If you suspect that you have SSHL, it is important to seek medical help right away. The faster you seek medical intervention, the higher the chances of recovery. You can go to your physician or straight to the emergency room for medical help.